Balancing Cost with Security at Omaha's Schools

Dec. 9--Economists occasionally describe the burdens of a "guard economy." That is, the costs can be high for society when it is compelled to devote an increasing number of workers and an escalating portion of its resources and time to addressing security duties.

Funds that could have gone for constructive purposes instead are allocated for hiring more security guards or buying more security equipment. On a national scale, the "guard economy" problem relates to the multibillion-dollar financial burden on the United States as it shifts precious resources by necessity toward airline and port security in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

The "guard economy" problem is among the considerations for Omaha Public Schools officials as they consider options for improving security in the wake of a gun incident at Northwest High School.

As an article by World-Herald staff writers Michaela Saunders and Bob Glissmann explained, installing metal detectors and devoting staff resources to such checks not only would take a budgetary bite. It also would cause logistical headaches, given all the time it would take to screen students.

As a nationally recognized consultant on school security stated in the article, the headaches from gun checks can be considerable, and metal detectors still don't provide a guarantee of absolute safety.

Nonetheless, the disturbing reality in Omaha is that a 17-year-old sophomore brought a gun to school and accidentally discharged it, injuring himself. An incident of this magnitude cannot be minimized.

Omaha school board members and Superintendent John Mackiel are obligated to examine all options for ensuring the future safety of OPS students, teachers and staff. At least four school shootings have been in the national news in as many months, demonstrating the heartrending results when the worst comes to pass in such episodes.

A key factor affecting many school safety issues is, of course, the culture of society, which is something that can't be readily shaped by school policies.

Although there is no easy solution, OPS can send a proper signal by looking at all options and providing parents with complete information. Considering the anxiety any school gun incident rightly generates, everything within reason needs to be done. And if parental support demands it, money will need to be spent, regardless of the "guard economy" costs.

Copyright (c) 2006, Omaha World-Herald, Neb. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News